Typical first-time home buyers are edging closer to achieving their dream as falling prices and lower mortgage rates are making homes more affordable, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The NAR reported this week that during the October-December period, the typical entry-level buyer had 81.5 percent of the income needed to buy a typical starter home. The index had been 75.7 percent the previous quarter.

During the fourth quarter of 1990, interest rates dropped slightly and the median price of a starter home fell 5.1 percent, from $82,100 to $77,999, the group said. In the meantime, the median income of prime first-time buyers increased slightly from $24,137 a year to $24,428, it said.

"Each time mortgage rates drop, the market opens up to more first-time buyers," said Harley E. Rouda, the association's president.

If you've got a thirst for spacious, gracious surroundings and can spare $18.2 million, you can live like the characters on the defunct television series "Falcon Crest."

The 257-acre Spring Mountain Vineyards in Napa Valley, Calif., is up for sale, including the 12,000-square-foot mansion that was featured on the CBS series that starred Jane Wyman as matriarch of a squabbling wine-making family.

Also included are a winery, the vineyards, swimming pool, guest house, 30,000 cases of wine and about 18,500 gallons of recent vintages in barrels.

Michael Robbins, who has owned the property in St. Helena for more than 20 years, is selling because he plans to retire, said Linda Frediani of Frank Howard Allen Realtors of Santa Rosa, a land broker for the property.

Spring Mountain Vineyards filed for protection under Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws last year.

The property has been on the market in recent years, but this is the first time it has been listed with a real estate company, Frediani said.

"We've had some interest, but no offers yet," she said.

The palm tree-flanked mansion, named Villa Miravalle or "valley view," was built in 1885 and commands an impressive mountain setting.

Robbins restored the mansion in the 1970s and renamed it Falcon Crest for the series that began in 1981 and ran for nearly a decade. Only the exterior was used on the show.

Frediani said the property could also be purchased piecemeal, including the mansion and a 12-acre parcel for $5.4 million or an 11-acre hillside parcel for $900,000.

The landmark Hotel Roanoke built in 1882 would have to be torn down for the city of Roanoke and Virginia Tech to fulfill their goal of having a hotel and conference center at the downtown site, a developer bidding on the project said.

"I don't think you can save the old hotel," said Matt W. Baker, vice president of development for Winegardner & Hammons of Cincinnati. "If you try to save the hotel, you blow the economics of the whole thing."

Winegardner is one of seven companies that met Virginia Tech's Feb. 5 deadline for proposals. Two of them said they were interested but made no specific proposals and executives at the other four declined to comment on details of their proposals.

The prospective developers "responded in varying depths and varying degrees," Raymond Smoot, Virginia Tech's vice president for business affairs, said this week. "Nobody has completely satisfied all the requirements."

The proposed project calls for a 415-room hotel expected to cost $35 million adjacent to a 50,000-square-foot, $8 million conference center, for which Virginia Tech and Roanoke have pledged funding. The project would retain the Hotel Roanoke entrance facade.

The Winegardner company's proposal is for a new 247-room hotel and a conference center slightly smaller than the facility desired by Virginia Tech and the city. The plan allows for a future 100-room expansion of the hotel.

Baker also said that his company's proposal could be altered to save a portion of the hotel's entrance area, perhaps to be used as a museum.

The nature of the bids rekindles the issue of the economic feasibility of the proposed project, especially with the current soft hotel market nationwide and financial institutions' tighter lending practices.

Fred Togni, a vice president for International Developers, said arranging financing for the project would be hard, but his company still is interested.

IN THE BUSINESS ... There were 63,974 sales of single-family homes in Virginia in 1990, down 11 percent from 71,870 sales in 1989, the Virginia Association of Realtors reported. In Northern Virginia, the 1990 total was 17,503, off 11 percent from 19,659 sales in 1989 ... Residential home sales in Prince George's County totaled 462 in January, down 21 percent from 584 sales in January 1990, the Prince George's Association of Realtors reported. The average home price was $123,600, unchanged from a year earlier ... Home sales in the Baltimore area totaled 983 in January, down 29.3 percent from 1,391 in January 1990, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors reported. The average price increased from $116,993 last year to $120,907 last month ... Housing permits totaled 1,068 units in December, down 70 percent from the 3,583 permits in December 1989, Regis J. Sheehan & Associates, a management consulting firm, reported. Single-family permits, which constituted 852 of December's total, were off 37 percent from the year before. Permits to build multifamily housing, totaling 216 units in December, were off 90 percent from 1989 ... Forest City Residential Development Inc. began construction on Draper Lane High Rise Apartments in Silver Spring, a 406-unit, 16-story building ... ERA Real Estate is launching a national print advertising campaign to promote its products and services. The company plans to publish 15 million copies of a booklet called "Smart Homeownership," which will be inserted in various magazines ... Sverdrup Corp., a St. Louis-based construction company with offices in Arlington, received a contract to expand and renovate the Computer and Space Sciences Complex at the University of Maryland at College Park. The work includes a 65,000-square-foot addition to the existing building, construction of 150,000 square feet of new classroom, laboratory and administrative space and renovation of a 185,000-square-foot building.

CALENDAR ... Women in Retail Real Estate is planning a seminar on "Towson Town Center" on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Bethesda Ramada Inn. For more information, call 202-429-9888 ... Magazine publisher William A. Regardie is the speaker at the District of Columbia Building Industry Association's Thursday dinner meeting at the Washington Vista Hotel. For more information, call 202-966-8665 ... The National Housing Conference is planning a meeting on "Housing and the 1992 Budget," on Friday from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the AFL-CIO. For reservations or information, call 202-223-4844.

PERSONNEL FILE ... James E. Gahres was named executive director of the Loudoun Partnership, a nonprofit organization of 30 real estate developers ... The KMS Group Inc. named James E. Grady vice president of asset management ... Zuckerman Kronstadt Inc., a Bethesda-based property management, renovation and leasing company, named Don Bresnahan vice president of office leasing ... Ruppert Landscape Company Inc. named Christopher E. Davitt vice president of branch operations.